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We talked to Japanese bartender and winner of the Chivas Masters 2017 to hear more about highball culture.

In Japan, the Highball is much more than whisky and soda.

While easy to make and consume, the approach to Highballs is often likened to that of art; the balance of whisky to soda, temperature and garnish are all crucial in creating the perfect Highball. We caught up with Japanese bartender and winner of the Chivas Masters 2017 Atsushi Suzuki.

Fully embracing the traditions of Japanese bartending culture throughout his cocktail creations, Atsushi is of course, a huge fan of the Highball. Find out more about what makes Highball culture in Japan unique and his tips for creating the perfect Whisky Highball at home.

How did Highball culture become so big in Japan?

Highball culture had its big comeback in 2008 when Japanese whiskies revised their advertising.
Before that, the younger generation wasn’t really into whisky and sales were declining. Highballs began being promoted as stylish cocktails that were a staple of drinking culture – of course, the adverts had popular and beautiful actors and actresses, too! The rest is history. Highballs are now one of the most popular drinks at izakayas (Japanese casual pubs) and fine dining establishments.

What makes a Japanese Highball unique?

I personally believe that Japanese consumers opt for drinks that are easier to drink (rather than strong spirits and cocktails). Japanese drinking culture also revolves around going to izakayas. These venues tend to serve light meals and the drinks are usually served as an accompaniment to the dishes, so milder cocktails like the Highball (and adaptations of the drink) are naturally a good match.

What is the step-by-step process of making a Japanese-style highball?

In Japan, the ice-cold Highball is king! The colder, the better. In order to make this style of Highball, first you need to make sure that your whisky base and the soda water are chilled to the max using either a fridge or freezer. Don’t forget to chill the glass as well! From then, it’s all about preference. You can go ice-less or add a lemon peel to give it a fresh, citrusy scent. Spice it up to your liking.

Do you experiment with different flavours in Highballs? If so, what’s your favourite one you've made?

Of course! My recent favourite was when I experimented with beer. Freeze the beer, thaw it out until it reaches a 70% consistency and then make an extract. Mix that extract with whisky, and voilà! It’s like killing two birds with one stone – you can’t go wrong with both whisky and beer.

What’s your number one tip for making the perfect Highball?

My number one tip is to make sure that all your ingredients are chilled as much as possible. Using a strong soda water will definitely level up your drink, too.

What's your favourite Chivas blend?

Tough call, but I think I’ll go for the Chivas Mizunara. The simplest of ingredients shine with this whisky. A Highball made with Chivas Mizunara, club soda and a yuzu peel garnish is just sublime!

Inspired to create your own Highballs at home? Take a look at our selection of Whisky Highball recipes, from a classic creation to exciting variations.

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